High levels of recent wolf × dog introgressive hybridization in agricultural landscapes of central Italy

  • Valeria SalvatoriEmail author
  • Raquel Godinho
  • Chiara Braschi
  • Luigi Boitani
  • Paolo CiucciEmail author
Original Article


Representing a form of anthropogenic hybridization, wolf–dog interbreeding may potentially compromise the ecological and evolutionary traits of local wolf populations and corrode social tolerance towards wolves. However, estimates of the extent of wolf–dog hybridization in wolf populations are scarce, especially at a multi-pack scale and in human-dominated landscapes. Using non-invasive (n = 215) and invasive (n = 25) samples of wolf-like canids collected in the Province of Grosseto (central Italy, 2012–2014), we assessed the extent of wolf–dog hybridization based on multi-locus genotypes (16 and 49 loci for non-invasive and invasive samples, respectively) and Bayesian clustering techniques. Based on a total of 72 genotypes, the minimum proportion of admixed individuals in our sample was 30.6%, comprising 8 out of the 13 surveyed packs; however, by correcting for the proportion of admixed individuals undetected using the 16-loci compared with the 49-loci marker set (26.7%), we suspect the rate of recent admixture could be closer to 50%. While we did not detect any F1 hybrid, four admixed individuals had a non-negligible probability of being first-generation backcrosses, one of which likely derived from a backcross of a F1 hybrid into the dog population. Complementary genetic markers (i.e., Y-haplotype and K-locus) or anomalous morphological traits further indicated widespread occurrence of admixed individuals of older generations of backcross. This high level of admixture raises serious wolf conservation concerns and exemplifies the expected dynamics of wolf–dog hybridization if left unmanaged in human-dominated landscapes. The implications of our findings need to be urgently upscaled for the implementation of management interventions that cannot be procrastinated any longer at the regional and national scale.


Admixture Anthropogenic hybridization Canis lupus Introgression Wolf conservation Wolf–dog hybridization 



The study was part of the LIFE IBRIWOLF project (LIFE10NAT/IT/265,, co-funded by the European Union, and aimed at experimenting methods of removal of wolf × dog hybrids, together with information campaigns on correct management of dogs and capture of free ranging and stray dogs. We acknowledge L. Manghi, E. Tosoni, D. Pagliaroli, O. Gallo, M. Zingaro, L. Vielmi, and A. Argenio for their support with field work, and the staff of the Province of Grosseto Administration (F. Fabbri, C. Galli, M. Machetti, D. Petrucci, G. Romeo) for their administrative support and collaboration. R.G. was supported by research contract IF/00564/2012 and by DL57/2016 from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology. We thank M. Scandura, M. Galaverni and an anonymous referee for having provided useful comments and suggestions on a previous version of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Istituto di Ecologia ApplicataRomeItaly
  2. 2.CIBIO/InBio, Centro de Investigacão em Biodiversidade e Recursos GenéticosUniversidade do PortoVairãoPortugal
  3. 3.Departarmento Biologia, Faculdade de Ciências do PortoPortoPortugal
  4. 4.Department of Biology and Biotechnologies “Charles Darwin”University of Rome La SapienzaRomeItaly

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